Mark B. Cohen may have been one of the longest serving state legislators in Pennsylvania history. But he doesn’t want to retire from public service just yet.
The 67-year-old Democratic politician represented Philadelphia’s 202nd District for more than 40 years -from 1974 through 2016. He lost last year’s Democratic primary to challenger Jared Solomon, who went on to win the election as 202nd district state rep.
Now Cohen has thrown his hat in the ring in the hopes of securing one of nine general election slots for Common Pleas Court judge in the May 16 primary.
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During an interview Friday with the Metro, Cohen discussed his desire to remain a public servant and what he hopes to accomplish if elected on Tuesday.
Asked what his first objectives might be, if elected, Cohen was adamant that the city must look at bail reform for the city’s prisons. Up to seventy-percent of those currently behind bars in Philadelphia’s prison system are there awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail. Cohen said that it’s time Philadelphia looked into using a no bail system, just as Washington D.C. does.
“On the whole, the city would save a lot of money if we didn’t have cash bail,” said Cohen. “I would hesitate to send someone to prison, if the only reason was because they couldn’t afford the cash… A person shouldn’t be in prison just because they don’t have the cash.”
Cohen said he believes individuals who might be a risk for the community, or might pose a flight risk, he could see imprisoning without bail, but for those who may have committed non-violent offences, he believes the system should change.
He also said that he believes that individuals, who may have committed a non-violent offence and have served their time, be able to have their records expunged if it will help them secure a job and become a contributing member of the community.
“As a legislator, I supported legislation for expungement for those members of the community who have committed non-violent offences,” he said.
If elected, Cohen said he’d also hope to look at recidivism rates at local prisons and at the various treatment programs that work to help those who may have committed a crime. In Pennsylvania, records for recidivism rates, Cohen said, are too difficult for the public to attain, therefore it can be too hard for the community at large to know how well the system is working.
He claimed that in Pennsylvania, recidivism rates for “many crimes” hover around fifty-percent, a number he’d like to see reduced.
“We need to stop recidivism,” he said. “There is very little information [on recidivism rates] that is publicly available… This is not widely known, but it should be.”
Admittedly, Cohen said, he knows that these topics might be too much for one man to tackle, even if he’s elected as a judge.
But, he said, that could work to his advantage, as in his years as a legislator in Harrisburg, he learned a little something about working with others in order to get something accomplished.
“There are only some things that I could do as an individual judge, but I hope to be a good example,” he said. “And, one of the things I’ve got a lot of experience on is the group decision-making process.”
Overall, Cohen hopes to be a voice for change, as a judge, in a judicial system that, he said, can often seem inflexible.
“I hope to bring, in the strongest sense, the idea that change is possible,” said Cohen.